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Workgroup report: All Our Assumptions About Delegating to Teams Are Now Wrong

Did years of “open-plan better-togetherness” make us sloppy managers?

The Center’s Workgroup 1 (USA) found that managing remote staff meant imposing the meeting discipline they should have used all along.  Now teams are much more productive. Which is rewarding. Which makes you even more productive.  But you have to uproot habits of meeting management and assumptions about team dynamics.

Did years of “open-plan better-togetherness” make us sloppy managers?

Purpose:  Discuss how should managers delegate to staff who are working remotely and alone.

Agenda:  Explore 3 discussion questions

  • Are we actually more productive working individually rather than in a group?
  • Is collaboration harder when meeting virtually?
  • How are we going to delegate and track accountability differently?

Lessons:  Meeting management:  prepare, facilitate, follow up

Can’t have impulsive or impromptu meetings anymore—which is a good thing.  The Workgroup members were pleased, if surprised to learn they could even hold large brainstorming sessions online:  some meetings should be informative, some should be decisive, and others can in fact be creative.

Members also make the key distinction between staff and standing meetings when people have learned to run their meetings in the same way.  It’s of course different if with a customer or other third party who might have different meeting habits.  That said, most these principles apply equally:

  1. Decide what kind of meeting it is:  to brainstorm, present, discuss or decide.
  2. Prepare an agenda with clear purpose (i.e., “scope”)
  3. Pick the right time of day:  some staff might have small children at home.
  4. Choose the right length and don’t overbook people.  We all need breaks working online
  5. Use the 1/4-Page Meeting Planner and 1-Page Project Planner from The GMs Toolkit
  6. Choose the right mix of participants, include only essential people
  7. Online meetings take a lot more energy, so provide breaks
  8. Establish and remind people of rules of meeting etiquette
  9. Open by getting agreement on purpose and key terms (see The GMs Index)
  10. Online meetings easily get off track, so facilitate firmly
  11. Call on people:  don’t let them hide, like they can in a big meeting in the conference room
  12. Experiment with platform engagement tools like “raise hand,” chat and polls
  13. Keep the task list visible and show in each meeting.  This builds accountability.

Though everyone in Workgroup 1 was of course using Zoom, Teams and other meeting services, they said they were using collaboration software any differently.

Lessons:  Team dynamics

Sometimes there’s value in bumping into someone in the corridor, but offices are full of interruptions and distractions.  Having to work in isolation forces us to think in detail about team dynamics. 

  • You can’t be friends with your staff.  Proximity can erode the helpful formality of boss-staff relations. Working online can create a helpful “social distance” when difficult conversations are needed. 
  • But socializing is even more important.  Teams need to socialize to be supporting and resilient, so bosses need to create social time, even if it must be online.
  • Dust off your file system.  A lot of information flows informally in an office, but now organizations need to really use all the information management tools they have.  Someone will need to stay on top of what gets filed, who has access, managing project platforms, etc.  What’s the point in discussing and deciding if you don’t record it?

Summary:  What’s the big idea?

Better meetings make people feel better about their work.  They get more done, their contributions are recognized, and they’ve used their time well.  The best way to motivate people is to give them meaningful work with people they trust and respect.  Perhaps COVID-19 has forced us to see this essential truth of being human.

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